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What is the history of Long Leaf Mall?

Judy Royal
StarNews
The Long Leaf Mall open-air courtyard was a popular shopping destination when this picture was taken in 1980.

The Long Leaf Mall open-air courtyard was a popular shopping destination when this picture was taken in 1980.

Talk about ups and downs. Long Leaf Mall, located at Shipyard Boulevard and South College Road, Wilmington, has had plenty of both throughout its 37-year history.

Lat Purser & Associates Inc. of Charlotte began developing the space in 1972, according to an architect’s utility site plan filed at the New Hanover County Public Library. It opened in 1973 and for 11 years was a thriving shopping destination for the area, changing ownership to Balcor/American Express in 1977. Among the biggest and most popular tenants in the early years were Balentine’s Cafeteria, Eckerd, Winn-Dixie, Woolco and May’s Shoe Store. Long Leaf Mall was unique for its large arches and fountain that marked the entrance to an open-air central area flanked by small stores on each side, with large anchor tenants facing the parking lot. An archived photo from 1979 shows a sign for Long Leaf that boasts “over 40 fine stores for complete shopping convenience.”

By 1984 Wilmington Mall Realty Corp. had acquired the center, and within two years things started to go downhill with the departure of Winn-Dixie in 1986 from a large anchor space fronting Long Leaf Mall. The new owners embarked on a lofty renovations project that included landscaping, painting, lighting, installing a Cape Fear History Wall and getting rid of the arches. The new look also included a sign identifying the center as Long Leaf Plaza, according to library records. This is also when officials began floating the idea of enclosing the open-air area, but this did not happen for many more years. In late 1984, 40 of 48 stores were occupied, according to newspaper accounts.

The center remained without a grocery store until Harris Teeter opened in 1990. By then, however, many stores had come and mostly gone, including a Rose’s, and Long Leaf Mall had languished from its former heyday. An archived newspaper photo that year showed a mall directory with only 21 of 48 spots filled, an occupancy rate just shy of 45 percent. The late 80s and early 90s marked a time of great discontent among merchants who felt powerless to the center’s disrepair and inactivity. Several store owners went on a rent strike in 1988 and 1989 trying to force the owners to improve Long Leaf Mall, which was now competing with newer shopping centers and the College Road corridor.

In 1994 John McNamara, owner of McNamara Jewelers, sued Wilmington Mall Realty Corp., accusing the mall’s owner of failing to provide the proper environment to conduct business by allowing nonretail establishments such as a bingo parlor, aerobics studio and billing office for New Hanover Regional Medical Center to lease space there. McNamara claimed the loud music from the studio thinned out his customer base and that the billing center and bingo parlor did not attract patrons in the market for high-end jewelry, forcing him to close. Long Leaf’s owner claimed the recession of 1992 and other market factors beyond its control. The jury sided with McNamara and awarded him $110,000.

Zimmer Development Co., owned by the same family that owns Reeds Jewelers and later co-developed Mayfaire, bought Long Leaf Mall in December 1999 and soon came up with a new design that eliminated the open-air portion in favor of a strip mall approach with every store fronting the parking lot. The new owner also began demolition in 2000 of all the stores east of Harris Teeter with plans to replace them. Construction of that portion did not begin until 2009 with work on a new, renovated Harris Teeter facing Shipyard Boulevard on the far east of the center with shops fronting South College Road winding around the side, including Rita’s (Italian ice), a mattress store and a nail salon. Old Time Pottery and Monkey Joe’s are in the old portion of the center going west, and the old Harris Teeter space will be leased when the store moves into its new space this fall. All of these changes are part of the most recent plan to breathe new life into Long Leaf Mall.

For detailed information about Long Leaf Mall, use the Google News Archive Search or visit the State and Local History Collection of the library.

User-contributed question by:
Mike Bradley

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